Following the earthquake that struck Nepal earlier this year, many in the country’s tourism industry, supported by friends and colleagues from around the world, began to collaborate on ideas and solutions for how to get its tourism industry back on its feet as quickly as possible. The result was a remarkable example of the potential for crowdsourcing ideas and for social media-enabled collaboration across continents. Out of these many discussions was born Nepal Now, an initiative of Nepal industry professionals, IT experts and led by the Nepal Tourism Board. Today it has a website and launched a series of grassroots campaigns designed to counter negative images of the country and to encourage international tourists to return.
Travindy’s Editor Jeremy Smith spoke with Nepalese tourism entrepreneur and one of the driving forces behind Nepal Now, Raj Gyawali.
How did the idea for Nepal Now come about?
Raj Gyawali: Ever since the earthquake, the tourism recovery discussions we were having were always focussing on this one thing that was a must, ONE VOICE coming out of Nepal, and that was not happening.
The government websites were outdated, and the industry associations were also not stepping up the game. The need for a one voice website on facts was a must.
Eventually, our discussions on this topic led us to CBI, the Center for Promotion of Imports in the Netherlands, who wanted to help in some way but was unsure. They were already working in tourism in Nepal helping tour operators target products to Europe. They showed an interest in funding the start of NepalNOW and hired a consultant to come up with the concept. A task force was formed in Nepal to oversee this development and through collective discussions, nepalNOW was formed as a one voice for facts, statuses and inspirational stories from travellers.
It fitted very well into the gap, as it meshed well with the campaigns that were already popular like the I AM IN NEPAL NOW, and the I AM GOING TO NEPAL. which were on a longtail after a brief high intensity of viral activity online!
How has Nepal Now been received?
Raj: Very well, on the international level, where it matters the most. The world was thirsty for information and now the site is launched, the information systems are flowing again. At the national level, for a while, there was confusion on what it was – a campaign or a destination marketing website, but once it was launched, this is also very clear. Getting the full backing of the Nepali Tourism Industry is however, still a challenge, but that was to be expected.
What are the main challenges facing Nepal’s tourism industry right now, and how is Nepal Now helping address them?
Raj: The main challenge is the negative images that have reached every nook and corner of the globe, and the impression that travellers have that Nepal is flat, or that travelling to Nepal now is difficult, or travelling to Nepal now is insensitive to the restructuring happening there… The biggest challenge is to drown all that negative imagery with positive – telling the world tha:
1. Only portions of Nepal was affected
2. Travelling is still possible and without hindrance (even with the fuel crisis right now)
3. All the activities are still possible to do, and its still a ton of fun.
4. Tourism is one of the most important money earners in the rural economy in Nepal, and so travel is important part of the restructuring process, so that money goes directly into the hands of the people and this helps restructuring directly.
At NepalNOW, the aim is to take it from two angles:
1. Give facts and status updates from the field to showcase authentic information on safety (the first issue).
2. Share inspirational stories from travellers so its more believable.
Both goals are being achieved, slowly but steadily!
The Nepal tourism season is starting up again. What are the signs for how busy it will be compared to before the quake?
Raj: Difficult to say as yet. We are hit by yet another crisis – an unofficial embargo from India – interfering on a constitutional amendment to favour the southern citizens, mostly of Indian descent. This is causing a fuel crisis, which hurts tourism. However, here too, the typical Nepali resilience and workarounds find their way to continue tourism unhampered.
Our estimate is that we can revive tourism to its former levels in about a year and a half, not before.
Can you tell me about any specific initiatives / campaigns Nepal Now has/is implementing and how they are going?
Raj: Well. the most successful meme has been the I AM IN NEPAL NOW campaign. However, the first meme to go viral was from socialtours on our facebook page, which reached over half a million views and was picked up internationally by different online papers and offline papers too.
We are also working on a graffiti board to be put in World Heritage Sites as a selfie board with I AM IN NEPAL NOW on it, and also a rickshaw installation to do the same.
NepalNOW is now recruiting student volunteers to go around and implement the stories from the travellers campaign. We even initiated a write to your MP campaign to reverse the negative travel advisories from different countries earlier in the year. Thankfully these have now mostly been reversed
The campaign coming up is I WISH I WAS IN NEPAL NOW which will be at world Travel Market in London. For this we will put strategically placed I WISH I WAS IN NEPAL NOW banners around the Global Village and at the Nepal Stand for people to take selfies at and then post online.
We will also hold a NepalNOW festival on Wednesday 4th, with a cocktail reception and special Nepali snacks and cultural performances, to woo people back. And finally, well be highlighting the NepalNOW campaigns at the Responsible Tourism Network Fringe Event on Tuesday Evening (you can get free tickets here).
The NepalNOW Festival is part of the official World Responsible Tourism Day Festivals, taking place on Wednesday 4th November at World Travel Market.
What can people and organisations wishing to support Nepal Now do?
Raj: Travellers to Nepal can write stories and put it on NepalNOW. if they are writing their own blogs they should just share it and hashtag it #nepalNOW. Btw, they can also win an all expense paid trip for two for the best story, decided by a panel at the end of the year!
If they are taking pictures of themselves with the placard I AM IN NEPAL NOW they should hashtag it #nepalNOW
Travellers going to Nepal should print the placard I AM GOING TO NEPAL, take a picture of themselves and post it online, hashtag it #nepalNOW
Organisations wishing to support NepalNOW should join the team, and share the statuses and information thats coming out of NepalNOW.
Together the goal is to cover as much ground as possible online and offline, to give out the true facts from Nepal, and inspire people to travel again.
Nepal is at a different level of energy right now as it moves into recovery and restructuring. This energy is valuable and a vital thing to experience. So we are full of limited edition products, one can only experience during this period. The Himalayas will still be there, forever!